York County staff asked county council to reconsider staffing requests

For some county departments, another budget season means another year of rejection for additional staff and resources to support a rapidly growing region.

Several department heads recently asked the county council to reconsider their requests for more staff at a budget workshop in Rock Hill.

While council debate on the upcoming budget has focused on the politics of a potential tax increase, the primary issue for those on staff has been how to continue doing more with less.

“I’m asking, practically begging, for this position in the office,” said York County Coroner Sabrina Gast. She has requested an additional full-time investigator. Her office is responsible for investigating every death in the county, including dispatching a forensic team.

Gast said that her office handled about 400 cases in 2006. Last year it was 1,500 cases, she said. So far, the office has handled more than 600 investigations this year and projects to exceed last year’s total.

The council is currently considering a property tax increase that would add $6 to the tax bill on a $20,000 vehicle, and $20 more on a $100,000 residential home. That increase would only cover a cost-of-living salary increase for existing staff and a handful of state-mandated hires.

“Three years ago I needed this person,” Gast said. It is the third time she has requested the position at a yearly cost of nearly $85,000. Similarly-sized counties currently employ more investigators. Spartanburg Countyhas 10 employees in the coroner’s office.

When asked to choose between adding additional staff or boosting current staff salaries by Chairman Britt Blackwell, Gast said she wants additional staff, which would reduce the burden on her employees who aren’t eligible for overtime.

Out of more than 40 positions requested by various county departments for this upcoming fiscal year, the proposed budget funds only six – four detention center officers mandated by the state, and full-time upgrades for two current part-time employees in the county’s elections and veterans affairs offices.

Last year, staff requested more than 30 positions with council approving eight mandatory positions.

Councilman Bump Roddey has been an outspoken advocate against the “cutting” and staving mentality of others on council, noting that years of reduced spending result in large, sudden increases for taxpayers.

“We can’t be blind to the fact we’re a growing county,” he said. “You’re going to have to go back and increase staff.”

Councilman Michael Johnson said he believes the staff requests are warranted, but that the council must be willing to look at cutting recurring expenditures to make room for new county hires.

Judge Carolyn Rogers told council the last Probate Court hire was in 2003 as a part-time employee. That position was extended to full-time status in 2006. Since then, the office has reduced daily appointments to deal with complex legal matters such as estate administration and guardianship.

“We’re up against the law in terms of serving this county,” said Rogers, who said her office also lacks necessary security since it was relocated from the county courthouse to a temporary space at the Belk building in York in the late 1990s. Her office requested two clerks at a total of $77,000 annually.

Rogers said the court has a panic button that sends an alert to law enforcement located five to 10 minutes away, but that might not be fast enough. “We’re dealing with people who are getting involuntarily committed,” she said.

When Rogers asked council when the courthouse was slated to reopen since construction efforts first began in 2008, she didn’t get an answer. Staff said the project faces an unknown budget shortfall as well.

Others, such as Joe Medlin of County Veterans Affairs, are seeking low-cost positions. Medlin requested a receptionist at his busy Rock Hill office on Cherry Road at an annual cost of $37,000. He said he would be willing to have a part-time receptionist at a lower cost to the county.

Medlin anticipates his office will soon serve 19,000 cases annually with the increase of veterans returning as the military reduces the number of people overseas.

Sheriff Bruce Bryant said his issue is flat pay scales, though he has also requested additional manpower. “I’ve been asking for officers year after year after year, and I know I’m not getting them this year,” Bryant said.

Bryant said stagnant pay has been detrimental to keeping his force competitive, which was once among the highest paid in the state less than a decade ago.

“It takes five years for one of my officers to earn the starting pay of a Rock Hill officer,” he said. “I’m not asking to be the best paid in the county.”

The current budget proposal provides a 3-percent cost-of-living raise for staff – larger than a 1-percent increase passed the previous fiscal year, but not enough to meet inflation and higher consumer prices.

Bryant’s office requested the most new hires out of any county department, 20 positions including eight patrol deputies at a starting salary of less than $33,000. By comparison, an entry-level officer at Rock Hill Police Department makes $38,000 within the first six months on the job.

Bryant said several deputies resigned from the sheriff’s office citing low salary.

“We can’t keep going year after year without raises – it affects every department in the county,” he said.